September 9th, 2015
I love movies that make you think, and I saw one over the weekend: All Is Lost. This seafaring adventure is as tense and suspenseful as a thriller and has a knockout solo performance by Robert Redford. It’s also a fable about our world as we have made it. After thinking about it a lot, I decided the ultimate message is even the most competent, self-reliant person cannot succeed without help.
This message resonates in our current, highly divided political climate. I don’t know about you, but an awful lot of hate fills my Facebook feed. I’d planned to list some examples, but as I started to write them down, I stopped, because we all see it every day. We’ve also talked a lot about the hate here on OYOL. Colleen, Elaina, and I have all posted recently about it. We’ve talked a lot about what not to do (namely, don’t pile onto the villain of the week), but the film All Is Lost reminded me of what we should do: help each other, or all will be lost for us as a species.
Apologies for spoilers, but a plot summary is necessary to illustrate my point. Robert Redford plays a man sailing solo on a well-appointed yacht in the Indian Ocean. While he naps below decks, a stray shipping container smashes the hull and floods the cabin, shorting out the yacht’s electricity. So begins a Sisyphean ordeal in which Redford’s retiree meets mounting catastrophe with consummate cool and skill. He’s up to every challenge, but he also can’t catch a break, and after a vicious storm breaks the yacht’s mast and floods the hull again, he abandons ship. His circular life raft drifts into the commercial shipping lanes, where two container ships, their crews invisible, pass him by, and ocean currents carry him into another deserted area of the sea. Without hope of rescue, his supplies gone, the man writes an apologetic farewell letter, finishing with the words “I fought to the end.” He tucks the note into a jar, seals it, and flings it into the waves. That night, he sees a dim and distant light. His signal flares used up on the indifferent container ships, he starts a fire in the lifeboat, but the flames spread to the entire craft, driving him into the ocean, where he sinks into the depths. Before he surrenders his last breath, the lights from another boat shine on the surface near the burning raft. The man swims upward and grasps the hand reaching down to him.
The film is loaded with metaphors about nature and capitalism (the NY Times review gave a pretty spot-on analysis,) and the hand reaching into the water to save the drowning man could be viewed as the hand of God rescuing a lost soul, but I think it’s an ordinary hand. It’s a stranger helping a fellow traveler. That is the hopeful message of the movie: whatever befalls us, the kindness of another human being may yet save us.
This must be the hope of everyone who leaves behind their belongings and risks a journey north, whether they’re heading out of Africa or Central America. The ones heading to Europe appear to be finding welcome in Iceland and Germany, if not in England or Hungary. I don’t suggest everyone link arms with any stranger who appears on the doorstep; of course one must be prudent and wary, but I do believe that most people are decent, desiring only safety for themselves and their loved ones. Offering them respect and a place to start anew builds trust and friendship and strengthens communities. Building walls and turning away desperate people only divides and weakens us. Isolated, we cannot survive, because no one will be there to pull us out of the sea, when all is lost.
To read more of Amanda’s letters, click on Amanda.
To read more of our authors’ letters, click on The Path.